Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pots of Gold ~ Peaches in Sweet Cooked Cream

With the peach season just about over, I'm wrapping up my many peach dishes with this little favorite. Always easy and delicious when peaches are fresh and ripe, you can make this ahead and serve it direct from the refrigerator.

Julian's Pots of Gold
As I've written many times before, the real key here is getting fresh, tree ripe peaches. Even those at our local grocer are not usually all that good. I prefer Michigan or Indiana tree ripe peaches (as in picked freshly once they are ripe and ready to eat). To get these you need a road-side stand, farmers market or grove where you can pick your own. Don't be fooled by imported peaches from California, Georgia or elsewhere. Peaches do not hold well in shipping so anything far away, unless you pick them up and bring them home yourself, is likely picked when it is too green. When this happens, the peach skins do not slide off easily and must be removed (heaven forbid) with a potato peeler. Yikes! If this is all you can get, better to make something else. As I always say, no matter how good a cook you are you can't do much with poor ingredients.

Good Peaches ~ the skin just slips off
If you did get nice, fresh, juicy peaches like these that were provided by my friend Ralph during his recent visit to Michigan, than do indeed consider this dish. It's really quite simple. Peel and slice the peaches, make the cream mixture, and pour it over the peaches. Bake, cool and refrigerate. They will be delicious. Good peaches need very little help to shine.

Ingredients (makes 6-8 medium ramekins

8-10 medium peaches
1/2 lemon -- juiced
1 teaspoon corn starch
dash of salt
sugar, as needed

3/4 cup  sugar
1/4 cup  flour
1 tablespoon  cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon  salt
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Whipped cream (for serving)

Preheat oven to 325F degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Immerse peaches for 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on ripeness of the peaches (the more ripe, the shorter the time); remove with a slotted spoon.  Let cool briefly in an ice-water bath, then slip off the peach skins with your hands. If they will not come off use a potato peeler or knife to remove them.  Pit and slice the peaches into a large mixing bowl.

Sprinkle peaches with a dash of salt and a juice from one-half  lemon. Stir in the cornstarch.  If the peaches are not sweet, add some sugar.

Mix together sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt.  When well mixed, stir in the heavy cream.  Place the peaches in the the ramekins and pour the cream mixture over peaches.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Place a cookie sheet to catch any overflow and bake at 325F for 45 minutes or until filling begins to bubble. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready for serving.

Add some sweetened whipped cream at serving time and sprinkle with a little more cinnamon.

Creamy and Rich!

Just as delicious raw!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Pan Roasted Sweet Corn with Tomatoes, Basil and Gorgonzola

With gardens still producing copious amounts of corn, tomatoes and basil, today I've put together a side dish that everyone loves. You can make it in advance as it is served at room temperature. The ingredients provide all the flavor you need for a delicious accompaniment to any good, late summer meal.

Julian's Roasted Sweet Corn with Tomatoes, Basil and Gorgonzola
If you have never tried pan roasting sweet corn, you are in for a treat. It's simple to prepare and makes a nice change from the classic 'corn on the cob'.  I know there are many gizmos and gadgets to cut corn from the cob, but I've never found one that works as well as my large chef's knife. I simply cut the stalk end of the cob off so I have a flat surface, stand the corn up in a large pie plate, and cut down the cob in 4 strokes easily cutting of all of the kernels which are caught in the pie plate.

Roasting the Corn with Mild Peppers from My Garden
4-5 large ears of corn, cleaned, shucked and kernels removed
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pepper or onion, chopped
1 pint (or approximately 10) cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 small lime, cut in half and seeded
1 cup of loosely packed basil leaves, washed, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup Gorgonzola or other similar cheese, crumbled

Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet or a well seasoned cast iron skillet. Add the chopped pepper or onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, until tender. Add the sweet corn and allow to cook for another 2-3 minutes to brown. Stir gently and continue cooking for 3-5 minutes more until the corn has nice brown markings throughout and it tender. A a pinch of salt and several grinds of fresh black pepper. Taste for doneness and correct seasoning. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

Gently stir in the tomato halves, squeeze in the lime juice and add one half of the of the fresh chopped basil leaves. Stir in half the cheese and let the mixture blend and come to room temperature. Plate for serving and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and basil.

Summer on Your Palate

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Italian Meatballs ~ Baked in a Large Batch for Future Convenience

Making your own Italian meatballs in larger batches is an easy task that will save you time later. And they will taste so much better than the hard, store-bought variety. You can of course make them fresh the day you need them, but as I often serve pasta on work nights, I like to make up a batch of 60 or so at a time. Once you do this a few times, you won't need the recipe anymore and you will never go back to store-bought meatballs again!

Julian Prepares To Make Meatballs
The recipe below is really just a loose guide for you to follow if you are new to making Italian meatballs. I like a combination of pork and ground beef, but you may prefer all beef. I use bread or cracker crumbs instead of fresh bread cubes, but use whatever you (or your mother) prefer is likely best. The recipe is quite forgiving regarding exact proportions, and so long as you use some onion, garlic, Parmesan cheese, oregano and basil, they will come out fine every time. The two key features of a great meatball are flavor and texture. If either one isn't right, you'll know it.

Wet Bread vs. Dry Crumbs, and Mixing Technique
There is a lot of talk among cooks on this controversial point. Some swear that you must use fresh bread which you've soaked in milk (sometimes heated milk) and then pressed out the excess, otherwise you get tough meatballs. I've never found this to be true, although I don't typically eat the meatballs without cooking them in sauce first, which I would assumes helps to keep them soft. I think the issue of using good quality bread crumbs is likely more important, as is the hand mixing technique. Never use a mixer, food processor or even a big spoon to mix the ingredients. Roll up your sleeves, lightly oil your hands, and use your hands to mix the ingredients and form it into balls. When forming into balls, do not press them too tightly together.

4 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 A-1 steak sauce
1/3 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon dry mustard (substitute Dijon)
1-1/2 to 2* cups unseasoned bread or cracker* crumbs
4 cloves minced garlic
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
    or substitute 1/4 cup dry parsley
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1-1/2 pounds ground pork
3 pounds ground beef, 85% lean

*Note: As you know I use up what I have on hand and often use either saltine or Ritz crackers in place of or in combination with the break crumbs. Start with just a cup and add more as you mix as necessary to get the correct texture. Don't use more than 2 cups for 4 1/2 cups ground meat.

Place all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Wash and lightly oil your hands and mix the ingredients together until well combined. Do not overwork the mixture. If you are new to this, now is the time to test the recipe. In a small fry pan, make a small meat patty and cook it. Taste it and adjust seasoning as necessary in the remaining meat mixture.

Wash your hands and using a scoop to ensure a uniform size, place the quantity of meat into your hands and roll a loosely formed ball. Do not squeeze the ball together tightly. I use a heaping number 40 scoop for large, pasta sized meatballs as shown here.

Preheat your oven to 400F and set the racks with one empty row between them. Prepare two large cookie sheets (with rims) by lining them foil and coating with cooking spray (Pam) or oil. Space the meatballs evenly on the sheet. You should have about 60 large meatballs when completed. Place the two trays of meatballs into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove, turn each meatball with tongs and return them to the oven, reversing the order of the trays so the lower tray is now in the upper position.

Oiled hands keeps meat from clinging.
Bake for another 15-20 minutes and remove from the oven. They should now be well browned. Let them cool on the trays. While they are cooking, prepare additional trays or plates that will fit in your freezer, by lining them with parchment or spraying with food release. (I use an old foil pan for this.) Move the cooled meatballs onto the prepared trays dabbing them on a paper towel as necessary to remove any solids or fat. Freeze the meatballs in a single layer.  When frozen remove from the tray and place in large zippered storage freezer bags and return to the freezer.

When ready to use, make your sauce and cook the meatballs in the sauce until they are heated through, usually about 30-60 minutes. If you need them sooner, microwave defrost them before adding to the sauce.

Julian's Meatballs Frozen and Ready for Storage

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Apple Stuffed Pork Chops with Sauerkraut

These chops are a perennial favorite in our house. Once the first signs of Autumn arrive, I'm making up a batch. There's just something wonderful about apples, pork, bread dressing and sauerkraut in a single dish that we find irresistible.  

Julian's Apple Stuffing with Pork Chops and Kraut
As you can see here, I tossed in a few Brussels sprouts which I had lightly cooked previously. They added a nice, fresh green vegetable to the dish. This really is a one-dish meal with your starch, protein and vegetable all ready at the same time.  For an even simpler preparation, you could use Stove Top Stuffing instead of making your own.

4-6, 1 to 2 inch thick pork chops, semi-boneless
12 ounces prepared sauerkraut
Stuffed and Ready for the Oven
2 tablespoons brown sugar
salt and pepper, to taste

For the Stuffing:
1/2 cup butter
1 large celery stalks, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small carrot, grated
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
12-14 ounces dried bread croutons (see note)
1 small Gala/Fuji Apple, cored and chopped
1 teaspoon white granulated sugar

Note: I prefer the Pepperidge Farm cornbread stuffing for this recipe, but certainly any good croutons of any variety will work fine.

Cutting a pocket in the pork chops.

Preheat oven to 375F. Cut a pocket into each pork chop as shown. Prepare the baking pan by coating with olive oil or cooking spray (Pam). Add the sauerkraut and sprinkle with brown sugar, salt and pepper. Stir lightly and set aside.

Melt butter in a large sauce pan. Add the chopped celery, onion and carrot. Stir regularly until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the chicken stock, milk, thyme, sage, salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring regularly for 10 minutes.

Place the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl. Add the hot stock mixture and toss gently to combine. Add the apples and work in.  Stuff the chops and place on top of the prepared sauerkraut. Sprinkle lightly with the white sugar, and additional salt and pepper to taste.

Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 30-40 minutes, until a thermometer reads 145-150F. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve hot.

Stuffing ready for the pork chops.